In a war that has no frontline, it’s hard for game warden Cody Morris to know for sure if he’s winning the battle against poachers or not.
Poachers won the latest skirmish when Morris discovered a deer carcass with its antlers sawed off Dec. 5 on 230th Rd. just east of Diamond Rd. after a county resident sent him a picture.
Morris, who also covers Chase and Morris counties, said there are no solid leads.
“Poaching in Marion County is just as bad as any other county in the state,” Morris said. “If you have the game you have people who will poach it.”
In his two years as game warden, Morris has found between six and 12 poached deer a year.
“They go after the big game,” he said.
Turkeys also are poached to a lesser extent. However, he said the problem is likely higher than his estimate indicates because a high percentage goes completely undetected.
“It’s not like there is a black market, but there are locals who are very worried about poachers,” Morris said. “Some people have a lot of time and money tied up in leasing out grounds for hunting and managing their property for deer.”
Many poaching-related calls Morris receives include tips about dead deer that look suspicious. Other calls involve reports of unfamiliar or out-of-county vehicles driving slowly before sunset.
“Sunset is what a lot of people call the ‘magic killing time,’” Morris said. “It’s when deer move around the most.”
In his most recent investigation, Morris deduced that the deer was standing in a field about 30 yards from the road when it was shot, likely from a vehicle.
“There was no blood in the field but there was some hair,” Morris said. “There were also very clear drag marks back to the ditch.”
A bloody bald patch gaped from where the deer’s antlers should have been.
Morris checked its carcass for broken bones, which often indicates a car strike, and in the process discovered a fatal bullet wound.
“We think it was one person, and whoever shot it must have ran and got it before the buck had a chance to bleed,” Morris said. “He was sneaky, though. There were no boot prints. He dragged the deer behind him to cover his tracks.”
In his quest to quell poaching, Morris employees a variety of tactics, including regular patrols, a “saturation selective,” which is a concentrated patrol of more game wardens in specific areas, using spot watchers and trail cameras, and employing robot-deer decoys with moving parts to see if poachers are in an area.
“The best deterrent is what we call a ‘night flight selective,’” Morris said. “It’s just like saturation selective only there is an airplane with infrared that can radio guys on the ground if they spot something suspicious.”
Morris has caught two poachers, and has heard many stories from coworkers who have caught them, too.
“It used to be that some guys poached because they had fallen on tough times and were trying to just put food on the table, but that’s not so much the case nowadays,” he said. “Guys just go after the deer racks. They just cut off the head or saw off the antlers. It is a big waste of meat. Others just do it for the thrill of the kill. It gets their adrenaline going to do something illegal.”
People who may have information about the case can contact Morris at (620) 727-3386 or Operation Game Thief at 1- (877) 426-3843.